Like every other early adopter, I’ve been checking out Google+ and I’ve been surprised by what’s been missing from the commentary. So here are some thoughts, in no particularly organized order, based on my initial experience.
Google vs. Twitter
With 750 million users, most of Facebook’s time is supposedly spent on pictures and games. In its initial iteration, Google+ does not seem to support those core components of the platform, which may make one wonder if Facebook really is the target. What it does support today, however, is a better version of Twitter, complete with specific status updates. So, in its current iteration, I would venture that the target for Google+ is Twitter.
Which may lead one to wonder why Google is so aggressively going after Twitter. I believe it is doing so because Twitter search may be starting to steal traffic, and potentially revenue from Google search. In a somewhat unsurprising move, Google decided to not renew its revenue agreement to get access to the Twitter stream. I would venture that this is an attempt to kneecap Twitter and ensure it doesn’t become a serious threat when it comes to advertising revenue.
While the company is generally considered as one that tries to do no evil, Google is also keenly aware that its success relies largely on two near monopolies: search and online advertising. With Twitter emerging as the first serious competitor in the space in a long time, rumored to be racking in $60-70 million a year in advertising revenue that could easily be targeted based on tweets, Google is seeing red and acting accordingly against the threat.
Google vs. Facebook
Meanwhile, there is the fight against Facebook. Facebook presents a different problem for Google in that it has taken an increasing share of online users time and put it in their walled garden, away from the web that Google mines for revenue. This trend is largely built on the back of games and photos so Google+ will try to tackle those things next.
While it is clear that, within the code, are hooks that will allow for games to be hosted on the platform, it is unclear whether that strategy can succeed. The main challenge they will encounter is that, as the owners of slide, Google is not just a provider of platform for online gaming but also a major player in the space. As such, some of the smaller players may be worried that the platform could sway in ways that me be less than beneficial to them. Zynga, because it needs to get rid of its current dependency on Facebook will probably hedge by putting some of their games on the platform but it is unclear as to whether other companies might join in.
On the picture end of things, Google is leveraging its Picasa offering, however, it is clear that it could do more by integrating it better in the + platform. The mobile integration is a nice piece and may actually do collateral damage to a number of mobile photo hosting applications link instagram, for example.
But the picture offering is not enough. A proper merging of YouTube in the offering might give it some extra power by leveraging their strong presence in the video space to offer something that doesn’t yet seem to exist on Facebook.
Google vs. Apple
Apple integrated the new version of iOS with Twitter, basically matching one feature that has existed on many Android phone for a few years. They have yet to integrate with Facebook but I would not be totally surprised if they were to do so in future versions of their device. Android already supports both Facebook and Twitter integration and is supporting Google+ through an added application.
In order for this integration to work, Google will have to integrate Google+ at a much deeper level than it does today. However, with a social network and a mobile offering, Google is in the interesting position of being able to become the social network for mobile devices. On the other hand, the approach they have taken to date leaves much to be desired. By installing two different apps on the device, the experience feels tacked on rather than integrated. The Android team has to do some serious work to really rethink things over and tightly integrate Google+ into the OS, making the experience seamless.
The acquisition game
With a rumored 4-5 million new users in the past couple of weeks, Google is off to a good start with Google+ but still only reaching one percent of the Facebook world. Building on the back of Gmail may be a solid strategic move at this time, as Gmail can get Google to roughly 200 million users. What what about the more than tripling of that number required to get to parity with Facebook? For that, Google is going to have to do a lot of hard work and it’s unclear how they will go about acquiring more accounts going forward.
It may just be that Google will try to require every user of every service they provide to create a Google profile account moving forward. Today, Android users are required to create a gmail (or google apps) account to sync up their device. This represents one acquisition channel that none of the other players in the social media space have and could be one big area for growth.
Another area for potential growth is in the enterprise space: looking at the Google hangout feature, it seems to me that circles could become a useful way to organize a company and get quick online meetings. In fact, it may be more useful as a working tool than as a merely social one.
Still, at this time, it is hard to see a case where Google could topple Facebook. But the history of social networks is riddled with the bodies of players that were once at the top and eventually superseded by new entrants (think Friendster and MySpace) so it is not totally impossible that Facebook could find itself in hot competitive waters.
What about reputation rating systems?
Last but not least is the question around reputation rating systems like Klout or Peerindex. Those companies have built their model on the back of Twitter and Facebook and must urgently adapt to include Google+. With many early adopters spending more time on Gooogle’s property, the reputation rating game has a new entry point that will need to be urgently included in their calculations if they want to continue being relevant. When I first mentioned this, many people replied that those services are just not good enough as is and it seems that they have yet another challenge to deal with if they want to establish themselves as relevant in the future.